Yesterday I was standing on my front porch looking at the hillside across from me and eyeing the natural slate rock wall that buttresses that hill. I expected to see a black rat snake sliding cool along the edges of that hot flaky rock. That’s the part of the hillside that cuts into the noonday sun and it is the wilderness version of the Redneck Riviera, for all the extroverted, drunk on my leftover food, wildlife here on Cub Creek. I could hear faint rustling in the undergrowth. I expected the snake, the chipmunk, the squirrel or even the less frequent box turtle. But then all at once, a butterfly landed on my hand. My perspective on the wild across the way, change immediately.
It was the color of the woods and blended in with my pale, freckled skin and the red hairs on my arm. It would have stood in stark contrast had it landed on my head, so it did both of us a favor I suppose. I have reached for the wilderness all of my life. Snakes in the grass, granite outcroppings halfway up a backcountry cliff, minnows in the softer eddies of a fast-moving stream, and a thousand other living things. I have grabbed at the wild with the fierce bluntness of a bear paw and in my more sanguine states, with the nimble touch of a flightless feather. I am lucky that most of my reaching, even my over-reaching, has oft times been rewarded with at least a temporary connection. The moment of reaching for wild, however, does not compare with those rare moments when wild reaches back.
Even after all these years of outdoor life, I still flinch when wilderness initiates the touch. Some of that is just human nature. I had the honor of being stung twice last week by red wasps. Like a gluttonous carnivore, I spent the rest of the day, unceremoniously and with no ethical brakes whatsoever, killing every wasp I could find. I used cans of poison, fly swatters, my boots, and even a pressure washer in my merciless homicidal (or, in this case, insecticidal) spree. I suppose I surrendered any nature loving high ground that day, but it fed a more ancient primal need. Revenge. So, it is with the backdrop of spiritual love for wilderness, a casual moment on my front porch and an almost regrettable murderous frenzy, that the universe tapped me on the hand. The moment caught me off guard. I didn’t even realize that the butterfly was there right away. I was too busy staring into the woods, trying to insert myself into the comings and goings of what I expected to see along that hillside. Sometimes, most times even, sentinel moments come when you’re not looking, not ready, or trying too hard. I have found this to be true of wilderness, music, art, love, and even the changing of the seasons.
The solstice, that point when the sun is farthest from the equator, heralds the beginning of summer. In our neck of the hemisphere, that moment is technically, June 21st. Well, for me, summer began a little early. This year, on Cub Creek, summer arrived on the wings of a butterfly and was placed ever so gently in my hands.